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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Swearing Actually Makes You Look Smarter (Science Says So!)

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Maybe you swear at work when your computer freezes, or you accidentally send an email before it’s ready, or a client comes back with a ridiculous request to be filled immediately. You can’t help it, you’re expressing yourself—but when you notice your manager standing nearby, you instantly backpedal and apologize. It’s just not professional—right?

Well, it may not be appropriate, but it is actually a sign of intelligence (go tell that to your angry boss).

According to a recent article in The Guardian titled, “Messy, Always Late, and Swear Like a Sailor? It Just Means You’re Super Smart,” this seemingly immature habit is an indicator of an appreciation for language. Basically, you have a way with words.

A similar article in Science Alert summarizes the study:

A study by psychologists from Marist College found links between how fluent a person is in the English language and how fluent they are in swearing. The former—verbal fluency—can be measured by asking volunteers to think of as many words beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet as they can in one minute…By comparing scores from both the verbal and swearing fluency tasks, it was found that the people who scored highest on the verbal fluency test also tended to do best on the swearing fluency task.

This means that someone who swears more frequently isn’t a bad communicator, but rather has a more extensive vocabulary. And if you know someone who tends to use advanced vocabulary in everyday instances (like your annoying friend at parties), you know that they often appear smarter and more educated.

Of course, this isn’t your green light to start dropping F-bombs in the office whenever you feel like it. We all know that even science can’t make up for behavior that’s still taboo in the workplace (and if it’s a serious problem for you, here’s how to stop).

But sometimes, it could be just what your team needs to hear: “Tossing in an occasional—and heartfelt—curse word can actually help instill a sense of urgency because it shows you care. (And of course it never hurts when a leader lets a little frustration or anger show, too.) In short, be yourself. Authenticity is always more persuasive,” says Jeff Haden of Inc. on the secrets of persuasive people.

And, it does make for great small talk—maybe the next time a co-worker catches you in the act you point out that your choice of words is really your way of expressing your fluency. You might just get them to believe you.